Huddled Masses

After about an hour on Liberty Island, we boarded the ferry for the trip to Ellis Island. Love that place! There’s so much history there that I could go on and on about it, but I won’t, mainly because there’s no way I could do it justice. It’s a haunting site, one you need to visit for yourself to truly perceive. According to what I learned there, over 16 million people came into the United States through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954.

I was a little surprised to read of so much hatred and prejudice that existed towards anyone who was “different.” The realization/reminder seems ironic when I think of the millions of people here in America who are enraged about the immigration policies of the nation. From what I learned at the immigration center, many of those angry folks have ancestors who were unwanted and undesirable at some point, especially if they were from Southern and Eastern Europe.

The exhibits at the immigration center are spectacular, not in a flashy way but in a heart-touching way.  Standing in the Great Hall and imagining the thousands of people who came through that spot each day was a mind-boggling experience for this American gal who’s never heard, “Get out! You don’t belong here.” According to what I read, a team of officials stood at the top of the steps watching those “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and had about only a few seconds to make a decision. Would the immigrant be processed right away, detained, or sent back to their country of origin?

Here’s a quote I photographed from an exhibit. “Disturbed only by the sound of a pigeon’s wings, I heard the voices of the millions of people who came through here, building a temple with their highest joys and deepest sorrows-men, women and children who made it through to a new life, or who died straining to look through a dusty mirror at what they knew they could not possess.” Eleni Mylonas

After a couple of hours, we reluctantly got back on the ferry and headed for Battery Park. On the way to the subway, we bought chicken kabobs and devoured them on the way to the subway. They were so good!! Even now, I can taste the hot, savory, almost-charcoaled flavor of the meat, onions, and peppers. We had watched the man press the small bite-sized pieces of chicken while they sizzled, and  eating the kabob while walking was heightened by that experience.

As we approached our stop, we wondered aloud how we’d know when to get off. Fortunately for us, a young Asian angel appeared seemingly out of nowhere and came to our rescue. A lawyer who had recently passed the bar, she too was headed to midtown. “Home of the brave and land of the free,” I thought with pleasure and relief.

We rendezvoused with Elizabeth and Allyson who had spent the day visiting Rockefeller Center and other downtown sights before taking the subway to Canal Street. They dined in Little Italy and then made some purchases a street or two over. Love my knock-off UGGs!

Purchases and overnight bags in tow, we climbed into a van for our trip to LaGuardia. Although we each had our individual thoughts, perceptions, and memories, we all agreed on this: The hustle and bustle, the diversity, the energy, the lights, the culture, the museums, the kiosks, and the bridges will continue to beckon us back for another visit.

Next time………

Look for the Red Circle

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Brrrr. Sunday morning was cold. I woke up first and quickly showered and went down for breakfast before anyone else was stirring about. Say what you will about the Comfort Inn. Their waffles, especially the chocolate ones, are yummy. In this particular establishment, there was a gentleman standing ready to pour, cook, and put them on a plate for you. Nice. I got my waffle and perched on a stool overlooking the other diners and providing a nice view of  44th Street.

Before long, the other members of our little troupe were up and ready to hit the streets and avenues. We took a few pictures and then parted company for a few hours. The younger set went to Rockefeller Center and Little Italy, and the rest of us went to Liberty Island and Ellis Islands. While part of me would have liked to see THE TREE and then look for bargains in Little Italy and China Town, I wanted to immerse myself in the spirit that surrounds that Lady in the Harbor more.

The four of us got directions to the nearest subway stop two blocks away and rode the subway all the way to the Rector Street stop. Regardless of what you’ve heard, New Yorkers are helpful. I’m not saying they’re as warm and open as some people in the South. I’m just saying “Ditch that stereotype.” Ask questions and they will help you. Manhattan is in the tourist business.

Along the way to the subway stop, we saw Mickey Mouse and some other interesting things you don’t see in Camden, Elgin, Conway, or Pawleys Island, the places where we’re from. We got on the right subway but began walking in the wrong direction. Observing our perplexed and anxious looks, a woman came up and asked if she could help, and after hearing us, she said to get on the #1 train, the one with the red circle. At least that’s what I heard, and every time I saw a red circle, I said, “Let’s go this way,” and it worked.

I can still feel the excitement as we took a left turn with an incline and got caught up in the midst of hundreds of people. Seriously, if we hadn’t made note of each other’s clothing and hats so that we could keep up with each other, our day might have turned into a disaster instead of a success. Sure, we had our phones, but for some reason, our batteries kept losing their charge.

One of the things I love about the city is its diversity. Rich, poor, old, young, black, yellow, white, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, beautiful, and homely—all are there, and no one looks askance at those who are “different.” That said, we sat near an Asian couple with one of the sweetest, most adorable babies I have ever seen. Dressed for warmth and lying in his stroller, he stared at his pretty mother and made a lot of “ba” sounds. Clearly smitten with her chubby cheeked little cherub, she communicated joy at his efforts.

We made it to the Rector Street exit and got a little turned around once we climbed up the stairs to the street. It was cold and overcast, and although we could see the water, we weren’t sure how to get there. Finally, with the help of our iPhone maps we made it the whole two blocks to Battery Park. Told you we were small town girls.

Although it might sound clichéd, the four of us fell in love with the setting, including the huge squirrels, the barren trees, and the Urban Garden. We joined the rush of people streaming towards Castle Clinton to buy their tickets, and after going through security, we boarded the ferry headed for Liberty Island.

Despite the cold, I stood on the upper deck so that I could get a good view of the statue as we approached. No matter how many times I see her, the Lady always gives me a little thrill and a sense of wonder. How many immigrants to this great country have seen her? Did they feel awe, relief, fear, dread, excitement, or what?

I recall a story in which a son asked his quiet, somewhat morose immigrant father to tell him about the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Thinking his dad would tell him about some gorgeous but unattainable “real life” woman, the man was taken aback somewhat when his father stopped fishing, looked at him with moist eyes, and said, “The lady in the harbor.” A pivotal moment, that’s when the son, a teenager at the time, began feeling awe and a deeper love for his parents instead of embarrassment for their “old world” ways, language, and clothing.

Back to December 14, 2014, we got off the ferry at Liberty Island and walked on the grounds oohing and ahing with the appearance and “feel” of the place. We asked someone to take this picture, probably my favorite of the weekend. With the New York skyline behind us and Lady Liberty in front of us, we were a happy foursome. We took some other pics and then went into the gift shop/restaurant area for some hot chocolate.

After about an hour on Liberty Island, we boarded the ferry for the trip to Ellis Island. Next time………

Museums, Diners, and Santas

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I’m not a travel writer. I don’t know what kind of writer I am. I just know that some friends and I went to New York City last weekend, and every day that passes is another day that the events that happened go further and deeper into my memory bank.

So I’m going to write a little bit about those two days this morning.

When we told people about our trip, all of us heard remarks like, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to go to New York City.” Our joint question is, “Then what are you waiting for?” As humans, we postpone. “I’ll go next year,” you think but next year never comes. You get busy. You have obligations. You need the money for something else. You develop health challenges and can’t walk.

We also heard, “It must be nice to have so much extra money,” and “I wish I had the money to go to New York.” We aren’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, and yes, I realize that’s a much-overused expression. It’s probably earned cliché status by now, but I’m not trying to win “blog of the year” with this post. I’m just trying to urge you to wake up and live.

If we can afford it, so can you. BUT, you’re going to have to give up something to get there. Some of us have already committed to going again next year, and we’re staying two nights instead of one. It’s not going to be easy, but we’ve agreed to put away $50 a month. I just need to stay out of Target and stop eating out so much.

We also heard, “I’d love to go, but I don’t have anyone to go with. My significant other, friend, fill-in-the-blank doesn’t like to travel.” Don’t use that as an excuse. There are dozens of people you can go with. My husband has been once and plans never ever to go again. That’s unfortunate, but there are so many people who do want to go, and all you have to do is ask around.

There are museums and stores and restaurants and lights and libraries and parks and diversity in the Big Apple. And the Rockettes are there. And ice skaters at Rockefeller Center. Oh, and there’s this great little diner, Westway, that’s become a favorite of mine. The service, food, and ambience are all outstanding, and besides, my husband and I spied Brooke Shields there one late afternoon.

Here I am nearing the end of my 500-word limit (I’ve been told that blogs should be no longer than this), and I haven’t even mentioned any of our goings-on. I must admit that Sunday was my favorite day, but Saturday had its redeeming qualities too. For example, it was the weekend when young people all over town donned Santa outfits and participated in a bar crawl to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims. At least that was their original purpose. I’m not sure why they do it now, but I must admit that I enjoyed seeing guys and gals dressed up like Santa, elves, and even trees as they walked up and down the avenues.

Quick recap of Saturday: lunch at Westway, afternoon in Museum of Natural History, and late dinner at Juniors in Times Square. So much detail could fit into and between these events. For example, the chicken-cranberry wrap at Westway is to die for, and the native New Yorkers who dine there make the experience more memorable. I sincerely think that we were the only tourists there.

The Museum of Natural History is a must-see, and just so you’ll know, you can actually make a “donation” from one cent to one million dollars for a ticket. Most people, however, pay the regular ticket price because they don’t know about the donation aspect. I know because of being tipped off by a tour bus guide.

Did we pay one cent? No, the younger set paid full price, and Jeanita and I paid ten dollars each for our admission tickets. And Folks, it was worth much more than that. We walked and gawked for nearly three hours and hardly “put a dent in it.” (Must stop with those clichés.) One final plus to visiting this particular museum is that it’s across the street from Central Park so we got to kill two birds with one stone…er, taxi ride.

Three clichés and you’re out. I’ll pick up with the rest of the story later.

 

Macy’s, Journey, and Westway

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Two months ago, I had the pleasure of taking a whirlwind trip to the Big Apple with four of my favorite people. From this experience, I was reminded that it’s not possible to do even a tenth of what you want to do in an overnight trip. I also learned that talk is cheap. Some people yak and yak and then yak some more about how they want to travel and that they’d LOVE to go to New York at Christmas to see the huge tree in Rockefeller Center, and the next year finds them saying the same thing. And the next year too. You just have to DO IT and stop talking about doing it. Here’s hoping that if I write some of my memories, you’ll be encouraged to “go for it” next year.

On the plane ride home from NYC that Sunday night, I re-read parts of a book entitled The Writer’s Book of Days by Judith Reeves. Towards the end of the book, she urges her readers to use “I remember” as writing prompt. While this is a simple idea, and certainly not a new one, it’s hard to put into practice sometimes. It’s easier to say, “Hey, I remember the summer morning when my oldest child was born” than to actually write about the event itself.

That night after reading Ms. Reeves’ suggestion, I challenged my sister travelers to go home and jot down some of the things they remembered. Although they looked at me as though I’d had too much eggnog or something, I hope that they followed through. I did.

I remember:

  • Watching the cab dispatcher at LaGuardia and admiring his ability to keep everything moving. I also remember seeing a yellow Highlander and wondering if we’d get to ride in it. We didn’t.
  • The wild taxi ride into the city. We were so close to other vehicles that, to Katherine’s delight, we could see their lunch and the books they were reading. When one person gets excited and happy about something, it’s contagious, and before we arrived at our hotel, we were all laughing.
  • Dancing to Christmas music in the lobby with Charles, a bellman at the Hilton Garden Inn, and knowing that this was going to be a wonderful trip. He later danced with Katherine and tried his best to get her to sing.
  • Eating lunch at the Westway Diner, something that’s become a tradition ever since the day Otis and I spied Brooke Shields in a booth there one May day. On the Saturday in December, we had sandwiches and fries, and Elizabeth and I pronounced the fries to be the best we’ve ever tasted.
  • Not being able to locate the Gray Line tour bus and settling for “the other one.” It was okay, but the plastic cover on the top of the bus was old and opaque. We couldn’t see the sights clearly; nor could we hear our tour guide unless we used ear buds. Using ear buds, however, cut out the city noises. It was a trade-off: savoring the sounds of the city or listening to the tour guide’s spiel. I did a little of both.
  • The hundreds and hundreds of Santas and elves doing a pub crawl. I’m still not certain about how and why this event was taking place, but wherever we went, we saw Santas and elves merrily walking up and down the streets and in an out of pubs and restaurants. We were told that they were taking part in an official pub crawl to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know. I just know it was huge fun to watch them.
  • Katherine and Jeanita wheeling and dealing over scarves and pocketbooks in China Town. Elizabeth later got into the act and bought scarves for the Core 4, a group of work friends.
  • Dinner at La Mela in Little Italy, a high energy establishment with an “interesting” ceiling decoration. We all dined on something different, but I can remember only my choice, clam linguine with clams still in the shells.
  • Joining thousands of other people in Time’s Square after getting back to the city that night. We visited the Hershey store, gawked at the billboards, and bought scarves from what looked like a festive downtown city market, complete with Christmas lights outlining the red roofs.
  • Enjoying a scrumptious breakfast with Elizabeth in the hotel dining room the next morning as we watched the gray and overcast city come alive.
  • Walking briskly to Radio City Music Hall in the misting rain. Drinking in the sights along the way, especially the gigantic red balls and lights.
  • Standing in line at Radio City and enjoying the sights, including a man wearing a red corduroy hat and lots of little girls wearing their winter coats.
  • The moment when Ann realized that our Rockettes tickets were for the 23rd instead of the 16th. No problem. The staff arranged for other seats, even better than the ones we had purchased.
  • The Rockettes and Santa! Marvelous show! Later I told Elizabeth that witnessing such remarkable talent was almost a spiritual experience and that I thought I was going to cry. Trying to hide a smile, she said, “Mom, you did cry.”
  • Touring Rockefeller Plaza and having our picture made in front of the Christmas tree. I also offered to take pictures of other people, something I often do when walking on the beach. We oohed and ahed over the ice skaters and then hustled towards the M & M store. Loved it! Three stories high and fun.
  • Subway ride to and from Macy’s. A nice experience that made me feel that we were in a movie. The next time I go to New York, I’m going to learn how to navigate this system because it’s so much less expensive than paying for a taxi or riding a tour bus. However, I highly recommend the latter for people who are visiting for the first time. If it weren’t for the things I’ve learned on busses, I’d think Battery Park was in Times Square!
  • Buying a chicken shish kabob and roasted chestnuts from a street vendor. Yummy! We had seen the roasted chestnut signs from the taxi on our way into the city, and I remarked that I wanted to sample this treat that I’d sung about for decades—“chestnuts roasting on an open fire….”
  • Doing the Macy’s thing. Jeanita and I have this landmark on our Must-Do List every year, but this is the first time we had ever visited the shoe floor. We asked about Uggs and were directed to the second (if I recall correctly) floor. It was amazing! Shoes, shoes everywhere and not an Ugg in sight. No problem. We were sent to a store called Journey on the corner of 34th and Broadway where we were assisted by a peppy young man. Unfortunately, we spent so much time deliberating over shoes that we didn’t have time to visit the Museum of Modern Art, my favorite museum. Alas.
  • Eating at Z Deli across from the hotel after realizing it was too late to go to the MoMA. Great (tasty and substantive) pizza and interesting ambience. There were a couple of picnic tables in the front of the market/deli, and that’s where we ate as we watched the drizzling rain and enjoyed being together.
  • Riding back to airport through Queens and thinking of how dismal the sky was, yet how the little trees and lighted decorations glimpsed inside of apartment windows gave pause for thought.
  • Enjoying airport snacks while waiting at the gate. The Dunkin Donuts flatbread sandwiches taste better there than anywhere else.

In about an hour and 20 minutes, we landed in Myrtle Beach with memories of street vendors and China Town and Rocketttes and little girls in their winter coats. From start to finish, our adventure lasted less than 36 hours, but the time together and the experiences we shared will last a lifetime.

Okay, Ladies, what do you remember? And what about someone else who went to New York during the holiday season? Do you have a special memory to share?

Last Day in the Big Apple

Tired but happy, the six of us wrapped up our last day of holiday fun in New York City with a little shopping and museum browsing. A good time was had by all!

On the last day of our whirlwind trip to Manhattan,  we repeated our breakfast routine while making plans for the day. With only so many hours left, we decided to split up so that we could all spend the remaining time doing the things we really wanted to do. Tilara and Mary headed up to the north side for some shopping while the rest of us went to the Museum of Modern Art, better known as the MoMA.

Interestingly, the taxi driver misunderstood us and thought we wanted to go to the Metropolitan Museum. Thus, we kept going farther and farther north, and about the time I was really relishing the sights of Central Park, I realized we had overshot our location. When we mentioned it to the driver, he apologized and said he thought we’d said the Met and not the MoMA. Here’s the neat thing. Although we got in some extra sightseeing, he took it off the meter and didn’t charge us. That’s a little thing, and yet it’s a big thing too.

I LOVE that museum, and that day it was especially awesome. Cloudy, overcast, and cold on the outside, it was toasty and warm on the inside. From the huge windows, I enjoyed the outside views while savoring the wood floors, the hushed sounds, and of course the magnificent exhibits and paintings. Everything took on a different (special) aura that day, perhaps because I was sharing the experience with good friends. Too, I think the holiday spirit was abundant, thus further buoying my mood.

From the moment we walked in and saw the display of words, I knew it was going to be a great morning. Jeanita and I heard piano playing, and when we saw the cluster of people gathering around it, we moved closer and saw a man standing INSIDE of the piano playing backwards. I loved seeing the work of Andy Warhol, Van Gogh, Klimt (especially the painting of the pregnant woman), and Wyeth. One of the things I learned that day was that the young woman in Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World had polio. I had always assumed she was just lying in the grass looking at a farmhouse and was stunned when I realized that she was actually inching her way towards it, a sight that Wyeth saw from a window. I also learned the term”magic realism,” something I experience quite often.

We couldn’t leave the museum without a visit to the gift shop for a few goodies. My personal favorite is a black t-shirt with the letters MoMA across the front. When we walked outside, I saw something else delightful, something I’d never see in Camden if I lived to be 100, a skilled dancer across the street who was performing for passers-by. Boom box blaring, she was energetically dancing with skill and talent. Where is the crew from Dancing with the Stars when you need them???

Fortunately, we were able to snag a taxi right away and headed back to the Staybridge where a car was picking us up to take us to the airport. We’re such a positive bunch that we even enjoyed our ride to LaGuardia, especially the Queens scenes. I felt like I was on the set of the old Archie Bunker sitcom of the 70’s. Upon arrival at La Guardia, we went straight to our gate after passing through security (not bad) and sat and waited for a couple of  hours. While none of us really enjoyed waiting so long, we figured it was better than taking a chance on missing our flight. Plus, there were many interesting sights to see, and the snacks were yummy. Love those Dunkin’ Donuts flatbread sandwiches!

The flight back to Myrtle Beach was smooth, fast, and uneventful. Seeing the stuffed bears reclining in beach chairs in the airport all lit up for Christmas was the icing on the cake. Tired but happy, we stopped at the Piggly Wiggly at Market Commons for some pizza and then went to the condo to eat and share memories. Truly, a good time was had by all.

Our Country

You have to love this picture. I snapped it at Ellis Island last year and have it tacked on the bulletin board in my office as a reminder that we all came from somewhere else. This great country is relatively new compared to many (say France or England), and we have variety unparalleled in the rest of the world.  When I first saw this picture, I searched all of the faces hoping to find ME. Who are my people? What is my heritage?

My recent trip to New York City reminded me once again of just what a WASP I am. That’s fine when I’m living in my little neck of the woods in South Carolina, but when I venture out just a bit, I see that I could easily become a minority. Truly, I heard more people speaking French, Spanish, Chinese, and German than English while in New York, and yet I hear people all around me frequently saying that they wish “foreigners” would go back where they belong (where that might be I’m not sure).

Don’t these intolerant folks realize that their ancestors came from elsewhere else and that they were once foreigners?? What about you? Did your ancestors come over on the Mayflower? And hey, even if they did, they weren’t the first ones in North America. Weren’t there some Indians (er, Native Americans) already here? Aren’t you glad they didn’t send your “people” back across the big water? I am.

And I’m also glad that so many other nationalities have joined to make this great land even greater…and it’s not just because of tacos and spaghetti either. It’s  because of everything related to culture, including art, music, traditions, skills, religions, languages, and so forth.  When at Ellis Island last May, I saw a short play featuring the experience of Bela Legosi upon his arrival in America. Then there are  Arnold Schwarzneggaer, Levi Strauss, Peter Jennings, Deepak Chopra, and Mariah Carey…all immigrants who enriched our society.

My husband must have commented a dozen times or more about how many different shapes, sizes, noses, skin color, and languages we encountered. It was mind boggling to see and hear the tremendous diversity and to realize once again that this is OUR land, not just YOURS and MINE.

As I walked away from the above picture and looked back, this is what I saw, the flip side of the same image(s). And just so you know, the little boy walking in front of the faces appeared to be from India. He belongs here just as much as you and I do.